The Medieval Town of Torun is a well-preserved example of a trading city from the 13th and 14th centuries. The town was an important element in the trading network of the Hanseatic League.
The World Heritage Site consists of three parts: the Old Town, the New Town and the Castle of the Teutonic Order. The authenticity of the medieval town center is highly praised.
Torun also is the birthplace of the astronomer Copernicus (1473).
Map of TorunLoad map
Visit May 2018
The medieval city of Torun is a small, well-preserved trading town along the Vistula river. I really enjoyed my stay there, and have been thinking since what the attraction was. A major reason is that – despite its considerable size of 200,000 inhabitants – it lies too far off the beaten track for the weekend getaway and stag party crowd (which Gdansk and so many other cities in Central and Eastern Europe have to endure). It still is more a destination for Polish school trips than for foreign tourists.
Although it lies only 168km south of Gdansk, it takes significant time to get to Torun by public transport from there. The fastest trains take 2.5 hours, including a change half way. These are not too frequent however, plus it is wise to pre-book them as seats are reserved and do sell out. On the return trip I got stranded at Torun’s railway station because of a delay of 53(!) minutes, which also caused missing my connection. In the end it took me 5 hours to get back to Gdansk. So going only for a day trip from Gdansk is possible but it is a gamble.
Fortunately I stayed for the night. The WHS zone comprises 3 parts: the Old Town, the New Town, and the ruins of the Teutonic Castle. On my first evening I walked around the Old Town at ease. It does not have a real ‘medieval’ atmosphere, 80% of the buildings seem to date from the late 19th or 20th century. But the buildings of medieval origin that remain are all true masterpieces of the so-called 'brick gothic'. Red bricks alternate with stones of a different colour or plaster. And that’s a very pretty sight in the evening or morning light.
The next morning I further explored the city. First I went to the ruins of the Teutonic Order Castle. The Knights tried to conquer and convert the pagan Prussia from this strategic point. Torun at the time (13th century) was situated in the buffer zone between Poland and Prussia - if you look at the map now it's pretty deep in Poland, roughly in the middle of the country. The famous fort turned out to be a lot smaller than I had thought. There are only a few foundations left after the citizens expelled the Order in 1454 and burned down the fort.
West of the fort lies the 'New' Town. This is almost as old as the Old Town, it dates back to the 13th century as well and was built when more buildings were needed for artisans and industry. Both former towns have now grown together. Here in the New Town lies the most beautiful church, at least seen from the outside: the St. James Church. This too is made entirely of bricks. Restoration works are currently going on, so I could not get in. The same issue applied to the Copernicus House.
A final bit of trivia: I had Torun connected to the European Route of Brick Gothic. But when I checked the organization’s website in preparation for this trip, Torun was not (or not anymore) there as a member. This also applied to Riga and Vilnius. Only German and a few Danish and Polish cities are included now. Sometime after 2012, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia seem to have left this network.
I did not especially enjoy my time in Toruń but that was not the city’s fault. Instead, it was our coach on a day trip from Warsaw that took a circuitous route through the countryside, turning a journey that should’ve taken under three hours into more than four through some unremarkable farmland and woodland with multiple crossings of the River Vistula our first clue something was amiss. Perhaps the driver knew of congestion we did not or just wanted to avoid highway tolls. This was annoying but I could not complain too much as the trip was provided free-of-charge as a ‘cultural outing’ as part of a conference I was attending in the capital. Regardless, we eventually arrived in the city with the outskirts being of typically brutalist concrete construction although one was brightened up by a large mural depicting Nicolaus Copernicus. After parking in a busy car park down by the river, we were led beneath the city’s defensive walls and past a leaning tower, both made of red brick rather than the marble of the more famous leaning tower in Pisa, then along attractive Medieval streets to the townhouse where the city’s most famous son was born in 1473. One of many impressive old brick Gothic structures in the city, it and the adjoining house are now a museum dedicated to Copernicus, even though most of his life's work was carried out further north in Warmia. There are various relics of his pioneering heliocentric work in astronomy as well as more day-to-day artefacts and exhibits of broader interest on the history of Toruń. We were also treated to a “4-D movie” that explained the history of the city and Copernicus, seats raising up and down to represent the galloping horses of the Teutonic Knights for example. This was an interesting gimmick at first but soon proved tiresome and I was a little concerned for the impact it may have had on the joints of the more elderly members of our tour group because it certainly rattled mine.
By the time this experience was over and our guide let us free there were only 45 minutes left before we had to catch the coach back to Warsaw. Toruń is not an especially large city and the core zone, with its array of Hanseatic buildings, is smaller still but I would still advise more than 45 minutes to explore it properly. There was no shortage of fine churches and houses, with the oldest still standing from the 13th and 14th Century. We were told Toruń has the largest number of preserved Gothic houses in Poland, which is a claim sufficiently obscure I had no reason to doubt it. Along with the man who popularised the belief that the Sun and not the Earth is the centre of the universe, Toruń is most famous for its gingerbread, which has been made here since the 13th Century and is a softer, more cake-like affair than the hard biscuit/cookie gingerbread usually refers to in the UK. There was just enough time for us to wander some of the streets and buy some of this excellent confectionary before rushing back across town to see the ruins of the Teutonic castle (picture attached). There was no time to get closer but there didn’t seem to be too much left of it, although I am willing to be corrected by anybody who had time to actually get up close. It was only afterwards that I realised that this castle was known to the Teutons as Thorn, a fortification familiar to any fellow players of Medieval II: Total War. It was then sadly time for the lengthy drive back to Warsaw. I do not know the identity of the tour company that ran this trip on behalf of the conference organisers but I wish I did so I could recommend against them. This reaffirmed my long-standing belief that it almost always best to organise one’s own travel where possible and it seems there are train links here from Warsaw, Gdansk, Wroclaw, and more but I caution I have no experience of their efficacy. There were two further trips associated with our conference planned to honour Marie Skłodowska-Curie and Frédéric Chopin, who form an alliterative ‘CCC’ trinity of famous Poles alongside Copernicus. I did my best to get out of those trips and explore Warsaw in my own time and only wish I could have done the same in Toruń.
I visited this WHS in August 2020. Perhaps because I had too high expectations, I felt Torun was a bit of a let down in terms of its OUV, especially when compared to other Hanseatic League WHS. Torun, one of the oldest cities in Poland, in my opinion is also one of the weakest of the 'Seven Wonders of Poland'.
That said, even though none of the main sites really stand out on their own, the whole ensemble offers a very pleasant visit by the Vistula river. Torun is the birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus, and just in front of the 13th century Gothic Old Town Hall, you'll see a statue dedicated to the astronomer and there's also 'his' house which can be visited. Next to the entrance, there's a UNESCO WHS plaque on the wall and another one one the floor. It is also possible to climb the tower for a panoramic view of the old town.
Another enjoyable view is from the opposite bank of the Vistula river, especially at sunset. Quite similar to Wismar, Germany, are the red brick churches, namely the Torun Cathedral and the gem of Torun - the Church of St. James (also on the Way to Santiago de Compostela in Poland!). All entrances to the churches were free and really worth entering if only for a quick peek to see the Gothic polychrome murals and the 14th century Gothic Cross with the Tree of Life. After a full day of exploring, I bought some gingerbread, and early the next morning I headed further North.
August 2017 - After spending 1 day in the Mazury Lakes, we drove back towards Berlin. For the last night we chose Torun. I have been there in 1994 already, but remembered it differently. It is a beautiful hanseatic city, some streets are even nicer than Lübeck, lots of brick Towers, Walls, churches etc. And you can get gingerbread everywhere "Pierniki".
There was a light festival that day, the illuminations were way to artificial though. Torun was a strategic place in WW II, so it did not suffer from destruction. Luckily, because it is really beautiful. I took a shot that night, which could have been taken 40 years ago:
Whilst it is a pleasant and charming city, I was actually a little disappointed in Torun. I think this could be because I, unfairly, had high expectations for it but on the whole its cobbled centre felt a little more tired and scruffy than many others in the country.
The central square is pretty and the network of cobbled streets is rather nice as its layout giving clues to the development of the old and new towns. Tucked in here and there are the various sites associated with the town's most famous son Copernicus.
There is also the added bonus of escaping to the river banks, especially charming was the panoramic view from the bank opposite showing the broad sweep of the town walls. This platform can be accessed by crossing the road outside the station and walking through the small wooded area, this short diversion came in handy when we were unable to secure a place on our desired train and had an hour to kill in the small station.
Another treat is that there plenty of places around town selling Torun's most famous foodstuff Pierniki (Gingerbread) and we had a wonderful time trying out as many varieties as we could the Apricot and Dark chocolate being our particular favourite.
At night the rather charming Jan Olbracht Micro-Brewery proved a very welcoming and filling destination, completing a slow paced day around the city which proved to be an enjoyable way to recharge our batteries.
So on the whole we had a nice time here but whilst it was very charming it failed to really capture us. Still it is certainly worth a visit if you are heading through the area.
Site 5: Experience 4
Old Town is a very nice complex in Torun. It is possible to spend a lot of time walking on the streets and passages. Especially Nicolaus Copernicus House Museum and City Hall are places you need to see here. And of course, Monument of Copernicus. Nicolaus Copernicus House Museum is a possible place of his birth. Torun is worth a visit by anyone interested in the medieval art and architecture in general.
The core area of the town, the Rynek Staromiejski is full of interesting buildings with quirky little details. I spent some time looking for them on the different fascades. I found the most interesting to be the Dwor Artusa and the House under the Star, as well as Copernicus' house around the corner.
A bustling friendly city. The town centre (Rynek) is very beautiful and more and more buildings are being renovated.
Make your first stop a bookshop for a town guide before you begin walking, this will ensure you do not miss any of the main sights and also point out the more unusual ones which usually have a local tale attached to them. The bookshops also have some beautiful large colour books on Torun or Poland in general. Buying one is a must but make sure you get it at the end of the day because of the weight.
Large enough to have many facilities for tourists but small enough to make it possible to explore away from the centre.
Make time for a stroll along the Wisla and follow the medieval walls.
Hotels and guest houses are now more abundant but always ask to check the rooms first as some may still have a tendency to have a stunning reception but very basic rooms.
We have never been disappointed in any of the restaurants so can't recommend any in particular. The tables were always well presented and the food fresh and superbly cooked.
We have enjoyed many a beer or coffee with the locals, sitting outside the Ratusz or in the Dwor Atusa across the street.
Children will enjoy the story of the legendary 'Flisak' who's statue is beside the Ratusz, 'Leaning Tower', Planetarium or a boat trip on the Wisla to the salt towers at Ciechocinek.
War historians can visit the various forts around the city or Barbarka a site of martydom of many Poles from Torun. Going further back it is worth a visit to the ruins of the Teutonic Knights Castle.
Adults, children, artists, architects, historians or tourists everyone can find something of interest in Torun.
Don't forget to round off your visit with some famous Torun gingerbread, 'Pierniki'.
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